Which subject are you more likely to talk about with family or friends -- politics, sports, pop culture or religion?
A new Pew Research Center study suggests that if you're like most Americans, your answer will not be "religion." As the Pew press release about the study notes, "About half of U.S. adults tell us they seldom (33%) or never (16%) talk about religion with people outside their family. And roughly four-in-ten say they seldom (26%) or never (13%) discuss religion even with members of their immediate family."
Some of this reluctance may be due to an understandable desire not to offend others or make them feel uncomfortable. And some of it may reflect the reality that people don't have a firm enough grasp on their own theology to feel as if they have anything sensible to say.
But I suspect another substantial reason people avoid the subject of religion is that they have never been taught how to speak about it with clarity and, more important, with respect.
Instead, what we're likely to hear in faith-based discussions is ignorance, bigotry and challenge. This is where experience with interfaith conversations can help. Properly done, such dialogue requires excellent listening skills and the ability to ask appreciative questions that actually seek knowledge as opposed to questions designed to belittle or challenge.
I found it interesting that age didn't make much of a difference in the willingness of people to talk about religion with family and friends. As Pew reported, "Millennials may be less attached to institutional religion than older Americans, but generally they are no more argumentative about religion than other generations."
If more conversation about religion is going to mean more argumentative questions and challenges, I'm glad for the reluctance. But I wish we could create a culture in which religious conversation happened easily in a way that was simply informative. Let's try that today. And if it works there, maybe we can try it with politics and sports.
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SAVING THE MAINLINE CHURCHES, SORT OF
Someone has come up with these 50 ways Mainline churches can stop their membership decline of recent decades. The fun thing about this satirical piece is that it has the advantage of crazy inconsistency. If you're in a Mainline church, pass it along to your pastor. Or not.